Public Health River Guide

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This Public Health River Guide has been put together by Matt Walburger, National Park Service Office of Public Health.

PUBLIC HEALTH RIVER GUIDE (Recommendations for good health on your self-guided river trip!)


Storage - Whenever possible, raw Potentially Hazardous Food (PHF*) should be stored in a separate cooler. If this is not possible (e.g. single cooler trips), raw PHF should be stored at the bottom of the cooler in durable leak-proof containers. Double bagging may not be adequate when storing raw PHF in the same cooler as ready-to-eat foods. All food items should be stored separately from cleaners, fuel, human waste or solid waste receptacles.

Temperature – Store all PHF below 45F. Use a thermometer to monitor PHF temperatures in storage coolers. Food Handlers should not eat while preparing food and should protect any cuts or sores before preparing food. Using disposable food service gloves when handling ready-to-eat foods is a good public health practice and strongly encouraged. Illness – Consider restricting anyone experiencing symptoms of diarrhea or vomiting from food handling or water treatment for 72 hours after symptoms resolve. It may be advisable to serve food to ill individuals away from the food service area for 72 hours after symptoms resolve. Also consider placing them on the same boat location each day for 72 hours after symptoms resolve.

Sanitize raw PHF contact surfaces (such as utensils, cutting boards, containers, etc) before use with other foods. Thermometers – Use a stem thermometer to check the internal cooking temperatures of raw animal foods (165F for most PHF. Good idea to use 165F as a general rule. However, eggs are safe if cooked @145F, steaks @ 145F, and ground meat@155F).

Separate Utensils or Gloves should be used by servers for each food item. A good practice is to have a food handler place food on guests plates as they walk by rather than guests touching each utensil in succession. This is especially important if anyone in the group is ill. Sick individuals should have a plate of food served to them separately. Food protected – From environmental contaminants. Overhead or side protection should be used as needed to protect food from rain, wind, overhead vegetation, etc. Cooked PHF consumed or discarded within 4 hours – Saving PHF for use at another meal is a high risk activity for food-borne illness in the backcountry. To be safe, consume or discard PHF within 4 hours of preparation.

  • Potentially Hazardous Food (PHF) Include: 1-Raw or

cooked meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. 2-Cooked (but the raw form is not PHF) rice, beans, or vegetables. 3-Raw sprouts. 4-Cut melons.


Hauled Water – Use only an approved Municipal System Source. Before hauling disinfect the container by: (1) Add 2 TBLS unscented bleach to 5 gallon container. (2) Fill with potable water. (3) Wait 30 min. (4) Empty, then rinse w/potable water. (5) Fill with potable water for hauling.

Water Filtration and Disinfection - If sediment in water, let settle overnight or use settling agent (i.e. alum). Use a commercially available water filtration and disinfection device. Follow all the instructions included with the device.

Boiled Water – Rolling boil for at least one minute.


Handwashing Setups – 100 ppm Cl residual is recommended in source water. Test strips should be used to check Cl levels. Liquid soap should be provided. Repeated dipping of hands in source water should not be allowed. Location – Locate handwashing setups conveniently near food prep area and also near toilet areas.

Foodhandlers - Foodhandlers should wash hands immediately before food preparation, after using toilet, after touching hair or clothing, and after other potential contamination. Remember not to wipe hands on clothing to dry them! Everyone – Everyone should be regularly encouraged to wash their hands after using the toilet and before getting food service.

Alternative handwashing setups – In circumstances where sufficient treated water is not available, 62% ethyl alcohol sanitizer may be used after washing hands with untreated water. This is not as effective as treated water handwashing setups.


3-compartment dishwashing setup - In the order of Wash- Rinse-Sanitize. Hot wash water with detergent. Sanitizer should have 100 ppm Cl residual. Test Strips – Use to check Sanitizer compartment Cl residual. Air Dry – Air Dry dishes and utensils before storage. Sanitize surfaces – Sanitize tables and other non-food contact surfaces between uses.


1 or 2 persons sick – Complete the GI Illness form (one for each person sick) at the time of illness. Submit the form(s) at the conclusion of the trip. 3 or more sick – Complete the form (one for each person) at the time of illness. Call out ASAP to report using SAT phone. If no SAT phone is available then try any of the following: (1) Use another groups SAT phone. (2) Report to NPS Patrol (3) Use radio if available. (4) Use Phantom Ranch phone.

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